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Beyond the Shire: 5 High-Fantasy, Immersive Reads for Fans of Tolkien

by  | April 15
Open door in a fantasy forest

Whether you’re climbing the walls, anxiety-watching the news, or simply lying in bed at night, wide-awake because shelter-at-home has completely thrown off your sleep schedule, you’re probably in need of a little escapism. And nothing screams full immersive escapism for me like sitting down and watching the super long director’s cuts of the Lord of the Rings movies. No matter what, watching Sam and Frodo fight to make it to Mordor always serves to distract my frazzled brain just long enough to actual relax a little.

But what if you’ve made it through all of Tolkien’s works on the page and screen, and are craving something else? Luckily, lots of authors have taken their cues from this master of fantasy and built expansive, all-encompassing worlds of wonder, whimsy, and darkness. Get ready to journey into parts unknown with these fantasy reads.

And for a condensed version of this article, check out Get Literary’s video below!

Check out Simon & Schuster’s In Other Worlds page for even more immersive book recommendations.

The Grace of Kings

The Grace of Kings

by Ken Liu

Tolkien’s works are very much nestled in the fantasy of the West, but if you’re looking for a story rooted in Asian history and culture, then Ken Liu has you covered. The Grace of Kings is the first in the Dandelion Dynasty series and sets up a complex world of epic fantasy and warring factions. Charming Kuni Garu and fearless Mata Zyndu become heroes after deposing the emperor, but their battle-forged friendship is quickly dissolved as they come to lead two separate groups who want to run the kingdom in their own way. Gods, war, betrayal, and technology all blend together into a sweeping narrative that will take you away to a fantastic new world. And good news, its sequel, The Wall of Storms, is available to binge read immediately after.

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The Tangled Lands

The Tangled Lands

by Paolo Bacigalupi

Magic might seem like the kind of thing that would solve all your problems, but authors have been exploring all the terrible ways it can go wrong. In the city of Khaim, magic was everywhere until deadly brambles infest the place, feeding off magic. So, the Jolly Mayor prohibits all magic use until the situation can be fixed. The story splits off into four sections, in which four different characters from varying backgrounds try to find answers and solutions to this crisis. Within each tale, authors Paolo Bacigalupi and Tobias S. Buckell craft an intricate and layered world that presents both the good and bad actions that people are capable of while dealing with a major crisis. If you’re into the kind of dark fantasy that speaks to real-world issues while still transporting you, visit Khaim for yourself.

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Cold Iron

Cold Iron

by Stina Leicht

Fantasy is as much about exploring dragons, magic, and conquest as it is about understanding what makes people…well, people. Author Stina Leicht does just that in her tale of 16-year-old twins: Nels and Suvi of Eledore. Nels is a scholar who is far more brains than brawn, but when he is ambushed by an enemy party, he commits the unforgivable act of picking up a fallen sword to defend himself. Dismissed to the army, Nels must fight for his magicked land (though he lacks the gift of it himself) alongside his adventurous sister Suvi and healer Ilta as the Acrasian army (fierce but without magic) begins to pose a real threat. The story in this well-built world sets up an intricate social system, history of competing fleets, and the ins and outs of political intrigue that our twin heroes must try to untangle and survive through. If you’ve got a taste for steel, the high seas, and a world you can get lost in, Cold Iron will keep you hooked.

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The Priory of the Orange Tree

The Priory of the Orange Tree

by Samantha Shannon

If you love the fantasy genre but recognize that very often, unfortunately, women play smaller parts in the larger sweeping narrative than men, then The Priory of the Orange Tree, a world-building epic that puts kickass women front and center in the action, is going to be right up your alley. We follow three women at a time of great change, when the “Nameless One” is returning and set to destroy the entire world. These women—Queen Sabran, dragon rider-to-be Tané, and the mage Ead Duryan—are linked by their mission to save the world, using magic, dragons, and wit to survive and thrive. Blending and representing both European and Asian cultures and history in the narrative, Samantha Shannon builds an extensive and nuanced world, and at over 800 pages, you’ll get to spend a lot of time escaping from reality.

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The Way of Kings

The Way of Kings

by Brandon Sanderson

If you’re looking for a giant of the genre in the twenty-first century, then look no further than The Way of Kings, the first book in the Stormlight Archive series. Setting up an impressive mythology, political system, and history, the book follows a huge cast of characters leading their separate lives across a sprawling world, but the action really kicks off with an assassination. And while the book has plot to spare, what really draws readers in are the nuanced and colorful cast, all of whom have a part to play in the larger scheme of things. You’re sure to find a character (or ten) that you grow inordinately fond of—and pray they don’t befall any terrible fate. And if you’re looking for a long series to take your mind off things, the Stormlight Archive has three books in the series currently, with the fourth entry on the way later this year.

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A reporter by trade, Sara Roncero-Menendez is a lover of horror, sci-fi, and all things pop culture. From indies to classics to even the strangest genre pieces, all movies, TV shows, and books are fair game for a binge-fest. Follow her on Twitter @sararomenen or at her website, www.sara-roncero-menendez.com